Wednesday, 24 September 2014

926 THROWING MUSES, TANYA DONELLY, Bristol Trinity, Tuesday 23 September 2014

It seems only appropriate that, given the last time I visited this evocative old church venue it was for the spiky, challenging and confrontational female-fronted noise of Savages, last Autumn, that my next visit should be for their obvious spiritual forbears Throwing Muses! Barely 3 years after I, along with fellow Muses uber-fans Beef and Ady, was regaled by a returning Kristin Hersh tour de force at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, we were looking forward to another one. Adding intrigue to tonight’s sell-out show was the presence of former Belly main-woman, and of course also former Muse, Tanya Donelly, as a “plus” on the bill. How would this work; would Tanya be simply support, or would she actually join her former bandmates and step-sister during some/most/all of the Muses set? Would said set include some of Tanya’s Muses songs, always the aural candyfloss to Hersh’s harsh spiky peanut brittle? Who knows with these crazy girls?!
Still a little sore from a chest muscle strain at the weekend, I persuaded Ady to pick us up in the monster truck, and we clattered west into the setting sun early doors, parking up around the corner in good time and heading to the bar, thence bumping into lots of people I knew as we found a spot stage right, near the front, for Tanya’s set at 8.30. I’d run into fellow veteran gig-goer Stuart (again!) who’d given me a brief heads-up on tonight’s possible events, so we were ready when Tanya took the stage, accompanied by guitarist hubby Dean Fisher, plus a bassist and violinist, but oddly no formal percussion. A few slow-burn, countrified openers ensued, driven by her pure, sugary lilting vocals, now a little richer and more resonant with age, with “Swoon” an early highlight, embellished both by some haunting violin and Tanya’s swooping, high-octave warblings. A spooky “Low Red Moon” was flesh-creepingly good, Tanya whispering the verses and giving this old Belly number the feel of a spaghetti Western murder soundtrack. By now she was mining her old bands’ material; a moody, gothy “Dusted” was an odd gallop when powered by Dean’s frantic acoustic strumming rather than drums, “Honeychain” was lovely, and the subsequent “Slow Dog” was a rushing, euphoric delight and the highlight of the set. Closer “Not Too Soon”, Tanya’s poppiest Muses moment, was a little subdued and understated after “Slow Dog” but nonetheless featured some fine vocal interplay between Tanya and guest vocalist Laura Kidd, and was a fine way to end a surprisingly splendid support set.
So, what could little step-sis do to match up? We headed into the uncomfortably hot crowd, stage right, for Throwing Muses entrance at 9.45, bassist Bernard Georges already advising, “make sure you drink lots to hydrate!” and the waif-like Kristin remarking, “its’ really hot… and we’ve not even started!” The set was initially drawn from last year’s sprawling, intertwining 32-track album “Purgatory”/ “Paradise”, which I confess I’ve really not put the work in to get to know well, but which featured copious amounts of the usual Muses trademarks of creepy mood-music, challenging and confrontational vignettes of noise, and odd lyrical stories emerging like little animals from Kristin’s fragile and febrile yet fertile psyche. Delivered by an intense, stock-still and wild-eyed Kristin in her harsh, dissonant rasp of a voice, variously sounding vengeful and disgusted, the new material was nevertheless more coherent and conventional, often without the weird backwards rhythms and off-kilter time signatures of “classic” Muses material. Some “interesting” between-band banter as well, with Kristin, rather tellingly, admonishing Bernard, “don’t tune! I didn’t tune!”, and lots of talk about “ass-towels” (!).
Things got really interesting, however, when Tanya wandered on, unannounced, 40 minutes in, for a creepy “You Cage”, then the storm clouds parted and the sun shone through for a beautiful “Red Shoes”, followed by the jagged guitar of “Devil’s Roof”. “Green Eyes”, sung by Tanya in a haunting, skin-crawling delivery, featured some brilliant backwards drumming from the excellent David Narcizo, then the cacophonous, chugging steam train wall of noise that is “Say Goodbye” closed out the set with the best number of the night, a soaring, searing rendition which transported me back to those 80’s/ 90’s Bierkeller nights, when the Muses were just about the most visceral, incendiary “live” experience on the planet. Wonderful stuff.
Final encore “Pearl” was a stark, austere end to tonight’s marvellous performance, after which a genuinely humbled Kristin remarked, “thank you SO much,” to the devotional audience. No no Kristin, thank you. Really, thank you! Set-lists grabbed, we hit the road bubbling. This was all we’d hoped – and more!

Friday, 19 September 2014

925 GAZ BROOKFIELD, Lonely Tourist, Luke DeSciscio, Swindon The Victoria, Thursday 18 September 2014

And as before, a Frank Turner show is followed in pretty short order by… a Gaz Brookfield show! Rach and I had a lengthy and in-depth conversation about Frank and Gaz’ evident similarities on the way back from Saturday’s show, my conclusion being that considering their remarkably similar backgrounds (members of former punk bands – who, despite their best efforts and hard graft, never cracked it – turned solo folk-influenced performers) and usual subject matter (staying true to their punk protest roots whilst also drawing from their own life experiences), it’s pretty much a given that there would be musical and thematic similarities. Gaz even acknowledges this fact on his song “Frank And Sam”; however for me Gaz deftly walks that fine line between influence and plagiarism, his own individuality and voice shining through. I’ve certainly got room for both of ‘em in my life, record collection and gig itinerary, me!
This also being a full band show, there was another incentive (if one be needed) to attend this gig. So I trundled up the hill early doors under foreboding skies, hitting the venue for a chat with “Songs Of Praise” promoters Dave and Ed, fellow veteran gig-goer Stuart Langsbury, and a few words with Gaz himself, minding the merch stand, before opener Luke DeSciscio at 9. A raffish tousled gypsy-looking young chap with a tremulous, haunting voice, straddling the octaves between soprano and often atonal falsetto, his songs were minimal guitar embellishments for his talented vocal gymnastics and softly spoken, often trance-like delivery, as he weaved an eerie, melancholic atmosphere, which I enjoyed despite the lack of real hooky tuneage.
By complete contrast, Lonely Tourist, next up, was all about the tunes and the banter. Oh, the banter; “I’ll try to make this a referendum-free zone,” announced the expat Scot, “let’s face it, if [the vote is] yes, well it’s not you, it’s us, and if it’s no, then things will have to change!” The erstwhile Mr. Tierney’s short snappy banter was intermixed with short snappy tunes delivered at a hectic, rollicking pace, quipping along as he went (“a mad shagger for President! That’s the kind of country I’d like to live in!” and “what’s with the dry ice, is Kate Bush on next or what?”). “I Am A Fly”, which (deliberately?) appropriated the hook from Wire’s “I Am The Fly”, and the excellently received “The Ballad Of Paul Tierney” about his journeyman footballer namesake, were highlights of another entertaining set from the Bristol domiciled Scot who, as Ed remarked afterwards, “we might have to deport tomorrow!”
Things cracked on apace, and barely 10 minutes later Gaz and his 5-piece band were hooked up onstage and ready to rock, in front of a thankfully full and enthusiastic house. They were in no mood to fuck about; straight into the ramshackle rollercoaster ride of the double salvo of “Limelight” and “Land Pirate’s Life”, the crowd already rocking and singing along, and Gaz feeding off their/our enthusiasm. This was a damn hot one, the packed house really cranking up the heat, Gaz remarking on both this and the amazing Thursday night turnout on a number of occasions. A couple of numbers in, the differences between Gaz and Frank Turner were becoming evident; Gaz drawing more from the folkier aspect of his sound, particularly in a full band setting, with Ben Wain a focal point throughout with some virtuoso and frantic violin sawing (Gaz remarking early doors, “I don’t know about you but I could listen to [Ben] all night!”). After a huge ovation for the opening line in “Towns”, “I grew up in Swindon…!”, a cacophonous opening guitar squall and pounding drumbeat led into a tremendous “Black Dog Day”, delivered with scary, wide-eyed conviction and startling venom by Gaz, articulating the gravity of the subject matter perfectly and even giving the energetic singer reason to pause for breath at its’ conclusion. A savage “Be The Bigger Man” followed, equally dramatic and fiercely delivered. Gaz was totally in the zone for this mid-set double, no mistake!
We needed a sway-along “Under The Table” to lighten and diffuse the mood, then a solo interlude showcasing a new number “I Can’t Drink Cider Anymore” highlighting Gaz’ recent pancreas and diabetes problems, which I could empathise with. A half-spoken, confessional “Tell It To The Beer” evoked a melancholy mood, but Gaz and the band roared back to round off a startlingly quick hour set with singalong versions of “The West Country Song” and a ragged set closer “Diet Of Banality”, before staying on (“is there any point in us walking off then coming back on again? No? Then we won’t bother…”) for encore “Thin”, another rousing singalong to close out another tremendous set from this earnest, punk/ folk influenced hard-working balladeer and his fine band.
Said my goodbyes and left, driving home under sheet lightning-lit skies, to ease my aching limbs into bed (I’d been rocking out throughout from my front row, stage left spot). Aching knees the next morning, but Gaz was definitely worth it!

Sunday, 14 September 2014

924 FRANK TURNER AND THE SLEEPING SOULS, Koo Koo Kanga Roo, Salisbury City Hall, Saturday 13 September 2014

My Autumn Dance card starts in earnest with this one, another Frank Turner show, mere months after opening my account with this extraordinarily talented and perceptive punk/ folk influenced wordsmith and balladeer (in the truest sense of the word; a travelling troubadour musician flitting from town to town, telling stories and reflecting incisively on the issues of the day, rather than just some jumped up hair band vocalist singing pseudo-romantic plodding slush from some drippy rom-com soundtrack). Well, after so long missing out on Frank’s talent, I’ve got some ground to make up, so I was all over the pre-sale for this one, selecting Salisbury rather than Bath or Oxford as it fell on a Saturday!
I dragged an initially reluctant Rachel along for this one – well, she likes Gaz Brookfield, I figured, so she should like Frank! – as we made our way down for only our second ever gig in Old Sarum (the only other occasion being Julian Cope at this very venue, gig 460, a mere 14 years ago!). A leisurely drive through rural Wiltshire’s villages saw us, thanks to good directions and navigation from my sweet Rachey, parking up behind the venue at 1/4 to 8. However we had to fully circumnavigate said venue just to find the entrance, tucked away in a rear courtyard! Not the only issue with this venue tonight, as it transpired...
Support Koo Koo Kanga Roo, despite having Frank’s personal ringing endorsement, were terrible; 2 idiots in sweatpants jumping up and down to a muffled hip-hop backing track, singing “songs” about dinosaurs and fanny packs. Allegedly Frank’s initial reaction to them was, “what the fuck?” before warming to them. Me, I’m still on that first reaction… Maybe passable as first warm-up on a They Might Be Giants kiddies matinee show, they were wholly inappropriate for a rock gig, although Rach was left considering booking them for the next school disco… So we sought shelter and refreshment in the packed foyer, only to find the queues for both bars immobile and about 20 deep! Massive queues for the tiny loos as well; it’s no wonder this venue doesn’t host gigs more regularly, given its’ wholly inadequate facilities…
Anyway, we popped back in and found a pocket of space towards the front, stage left, then the lights dimmed at 9 and Frank and the band, uniformly white-shirted, took the stage in short order and rocked straight into the ramshackle sea shanty opener of “Try This At Home”. Straight away the whole audience was enthusiastically singing and clapping along, totally engaged and swept up in the inclusiveness of the Frank Turner “live” experience. A tremendous mandolin-powered “Losing Days” (reminding me of James’ 80’s classic “What For”) preceded Frank welcoming us to, “show 1609!” before introducing the first of a smattering of new numbers and asking 2 requests of us; firstly, no filming during the newies (“film the rest of the show, I don’t care!”) and secondly, treat them like the old numbers! The audience responded perfectly to the speedy, off-kilter rollercoaster ride of “Out Of Breath”, the best newie on offer tonight.
Once again Frank was on top form; a born performer, charismatic, voluble and gregarious, a lot to say both in song and between, relating to the audience in this large hall as if we were a group of friends in a pub back room (still kicking myself about not turning on to Frank earlier and thereby missing the chance to see him in those type of venues!). Following a rambunctious “Reasons Not To Be An Idiot”, an energetic Frank remarked, “I have to address the issue of my untied shoelace or I’ll fall over and kill myself!” before the raw, passionate, backlit rendition of the Dashboard Confessional-alike “Disappeared”, an early highlight. This however was topped by a solo “Better Half”, which Frank claimed to only have played 3 times ever, but which was delivered brilliantly, with scary conviction and heart-cracking emotion as raw as his strained but passionate delivery.
We were regaled by an account of a 1998 Salisbury show for Frank’s old band, in which they turned up only to find they were double booked, told politely to fuck off, then ended up playing to 3 people at The Hobgoblin pub! A bit of a change to tonight, in which “Photosynthesis” saw this sell-out crowd all sitting down during the middle eight (not so fond of this, due to my dodgy knees…), before the hoe-down denouement saw everyone jumping about. A suspenseful “Plain Sailing Weather” followed, building to another passionate crescendo, then Frank introduced another newie “Get Better” (“about trying to get better… ha!”), with, “one more new song, then it’s wall to wall hits! I’m talking Bon Jovi, Squeeze, Del Amitri…!” No Dels though, but instead we got the jolly maypole dance of “Recovery”, with a crew member acting as dance instructor, before a toughened up set closer “Long Live The Queen” which nevertheless featured a slow, stripped back finale, showing how much this song – and the audience’s reverential singalong – still means to him, maaaan.
The encore highlight of “I Knew Prufrock Before He Was Famous” preceded another lengthy monologue from the man, thanking us for selling out tonight and reflecting on his current success (“I’ve been asked on this tour, why are you playing small venues [after playing arenas earlier this year]… there’s NO WAY this is a small venue!”), then a punk rock “Four Simple Words” brought a consummate 1 hour 45 performance to a close. Another fairly simple set-list later, we joined the queue to get out, as the entire audience was uncomfortably funnelled out through the small entrance, instead of opening up the fire exits at the back of the venue, again showing this venue’s complete unpreparedness for such a gig. Then a swift drive back in inky blackness, nonetheless reflecting on another excellent Frank Turner show!

Friday, 5 September 2014

923 CASE HARDIN, THE SHUDDERS, Tamsin Quin, Swindon the Victoria, Thursday 4 September 2014

A redemption of sorts to start off a hectic Autumn gigging dance card, with a trip up the hill to catch Tim’s band The Shudders. They’d been off my schedule since January, when a sloppy, drink-fuelled performance in front of a minimal crowd slightly tarnished a burgeoning reputation. Still, I’m prepared to give them a lot of rope (Tim’s my best friend – of course I’m going to give them a lot of rope!), and Tim’s recent promises that after a bumpy 2014 to date, things are coming together as they focus on the final stages of recording their second album, reassured me somewhat. I’d actually tried to catch them on the last night of the Swindon Shuffle, but couldn’t get into the 18+ only Beehive with a visiting Evan. So this was the next opportunity!
A drive up the hill with Dean, recovering from his knee op, saw us park up at 8 then socialise with Tim, Tracey, the rest of the band and the usual Vic crew for a while before the late-running “Songs Of Praise”-promoted evening finally got under way at 9, and we decamped into the venue to catch opener Tamsin Quin. A strikingly attractive young girl with a tumbling mass of brown curls and a self-deprecating smile at the end of each number, she poured her heart into some dark and soulful Delta blues and occasionally Celtic-tinged numbers, embellishing her emotive balladry with a smoky dark, world-weary voice which sounded old and wise way beyond her years. Charming too; “I’m going to sing a song about alcohol – because I like alcohol a lot, and sometimes it doesn’t like you back!” Some playful banter with Jim from Case Hardin over final number “Been So Long” was an entertaining end to a fine set.
The Shudders were next up and were keen to crack on, all guitarred up and onstage before schedule! It was clear from the outset that they were “on it”, with the soaring, Posies-like opener “Sorry” a melodic powerpop delight and a great way to open the set. Indeed, this set showcased a growing maturity and wider variety and breadth of songwriting prowess, taking in powerpop, indie rock, Americana and rootsy, dusty folk, highlighting their new album material perfectly. In fact, Danny plugged their first album then announced most of the songs tonight weren’t on it, prompting Tim to sardonically retort, “we’re great at this [self-promotion], aren’t we?”
The Shudders were actually great tonight, certainly the best I’ve seen them; “Sunrise” featured ringing guitar interplay interwoven with delicate harmonies, recalling Buffalo Tom’s rare quieter moments, then contrasting with the subsequent brash 70’s “Grease”/ rock stomp of “Angels”, which featured a surprisingly strident vocal performance from a confident Danny. Some comical Ardal O’Hanlon moments from Liam whilst tuning up (“My van ran out of diesel on the M4 today! Brilliant!”) preceded a toughened up “Words Of A Fool”, the only first album number on display tonight, and sounding way better thanks to an excellent drum performance from their (I still think of him as…) new drummer Jim, possibly tonight’s MVP. The superbly swaggering Replacements-like bar-room bluesy romp of “Thought I Saw You” segued into the sprawling set closer “Mary’s Grace”, now deserving of the epithet of “epic”, and capping a superb performance. Well done boys!
After that, headliners Case Hardin had a hard job of it, and for me fell short. They delivered a set of countrified folk and rock, mainly falling more into pedal steel/ Nashville swing trad country territory for me, rather than parched alt-Americana, with an energetic Captain Beefheart lookalike vocalist. Very accomplished both from a musical and songwriting perspective, and vaguely reminiscent of Jimmy LaFave’s red dirt music, and occasionally ”Rattlesnakes”-era Lloyd Cole minus his gauche charm, they went down well with this respectful audience (apart from a couple of out-of-place noisy slappers!) but didn’t press too many buttons for me. I liked the fun acoustic interlude on the floor, the bassist producing a huge double-bass to pluck in the process, but overall I admired rather than enjoyed their set.
Nevertheless, The Shudders came through tonight, so congrats were in order afterwards before the lateness of the hour (now bumping up to midnight! On a school night!) saw me drag myself off after another splendid “Songs Of Praise” evening, As I said, a redemption tonight for The Shudders!